Knock Down the House

: Documentary Feature
GENRE: Documentary
STATUS: Completed


Four working class women run for Congress, overcoming adversity to battle powerful political machines in very different American landscapes. One of their races will change the country forever.


After losing her father in the midst of the financial crisis, Bronx-born Alexandria Ocasio Cortez had to work double shifts in a restaurant to save her family’s home from foreclosure. When her daughter died from an undiagnosed, preventable medical condition, Amy Vilela didn't know what to do with the anger she felt about America's broken health care system. Cori Bush was drawn into the streets when the police shooting of an unarmed black man brought protests and tanks into her neighborhood. Paula Jean Swearengin grew sick of burying family and friends to environmental illnesses caused by the coal industry. All four women understood that their lives were affected by politics, but as they dug deeper into the obstacles their families and communities faced, each discovered a brick wall: the influence of lobbyists and corporations on our political system.

At a moment of historic volatility in American politics, Amy, Alex, Cori and Paula decide to fight back in a way that will change their lives forever.  They set out to defeat powerful incumbents in Congress without the help of corporate money or political experience. It's a goal many consider impossible—until one of them pulls off the most shocking political upset in recent American history.


By presenting the story of a unified group of candidates dedicated to eradicating money in politics, this film will present a unique angle on both the rise of progressive upstart candidates and the historic waves of ordinary women running for office—two of the biggest stories of 2018. At a time when political surprises are becoming the norm, this film will ask what it really takes for ordinary people to break down the barriers of access to the halls of power. The charismatic women in Knock Down The House continually draw connections between corporate influence in politics and inequities of representation in government, between economic inequality and injustice based on race, gender, or sexuality. Their stories of empowerment will challenge the cynicism that keeps many people from engaging with the democratic process.

This is a story about power, and what it takes to achieve it both inside yourself and in the world. To run, Amy, Alex, Cori and Paula must fight to unify their divided districts, discover courage in the midst of pain and loss, and withstand personal attacks. The documentary offers an inside look at an innovative campaign that shocked the world with its success, but it will also reveal the powerful forces that keep other outsider candidates from winning. It will explore our characters’ individual struggles within a larger movement, how these campaigns have changed their lives as well as the political conversation in their districts and nationally. Win or lose, none of them will ever be the same again

Knock Down The House will build on the fast-paced, gritty, observational style we developed for The Hand That Feeds. We’ll move from lively urban neighborhoods to sleepy mountain hollows and suburban sprawl, dramatizing powerful connections between people in very different regions of the country. We’ll use split screens to interweave the four candidates’ storylines, and playful archival montages and animated screencasts to show the role of media and technology in elections. With its suspenseful storyline and life and death stakes, this documentary will change the way we think about democracy and keep audiences on the edge of their seats.


Rachel Lears - Director/ Producer/ Cinematographer

Rachel's most recent feature documentary, The Hand That Feeds, was nominated for an Emmy in 2017, and won awards and recognition at Full Frame, DOC NYC, AFI Docs, Chicago Latino, and numerous other festivals on the 2014-15 circuit. It was broadcast on PBS, and supported by Sundance Documentary Film Program, the Ford Foundation, Latino Public Broadcasting, Chicken & Egg Pictures, New York State Council on the Arts (NYSCA), Bertha BRITDOC Connect Fund, and the Cinereach Project at Sundance Institute, and was featured at Good Pitch NY, Sundance Creative Producing Lab & Summit, and IFP's Spotlight on Documentaries. Rachel’s first film Birds of Passage (2010) was supported by Fulbright and the National Film Institute of Uruguay (ICAU), had two community screening tours of Uruguay sponsored by the Ministry of Education and Culture, and was broadcast nationally throughout Latin America. Her video art collaborations with artist Saya Woolfalk have screened at numerous galleries and museums worldwide since 2008. Rachel was a 2013 Sundance Creative Producing Fellow and holds a PhD in Cultural Anthropology and a graduate certificate in Culture and Media from NYU. 

Robin Blotnick - Producer/ Editor

Robin is a 2013 Sundance Creative Producing Fellow. His feature documentary debut, Gods and Kings (2012), about masks, magic and media in the Guatemalan highlands, won the Intangible Culture Prize at the RAI International Festival of Ethnographic Films (Scotland, 2013). The Hand That Feeds (2014), about a bitter struggle for justice at a New York City deli, broadcast on PBS (where it was nominated for an Emmy) and picked up awards at several festivals (including Full Frame, DOC NYC and AFI Docs) and press acclaim at its theatrical run. City of Movement, an archival collage he directed and edited, is currently playing on infinite loop at the Museum of the City of New York.

Sarah Olson - Producer

Sarah developed and produced the highly acclaimed documentary FED UP, for Atlas Films, which premiered at Sundance in 2014. Named as a NYT Critics Pick and “a movie that matters” by Rolling Stone, FED UP was acquired by Radius/TWC and received a broad theatrical release. In addition, while at Atlas Films, Sarah line produced the 2009 award-winning documentary Tapped, which won six awards for Best Documentary Feature at festivals around the country and continues to be used as an educational tool at universities around the world.


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